Interview with Doug Kurkul, CEO of the American Foundry Society
We met American Foundry Society CEO Doug Kurkul at the AFS Metalcasting Congress in Fort Worth, Texas, and took the opportunity to discuss some of the latest developments in the industry.
Foundry-Planet: Mr. Kurkul, how are things going for the American foundry industry in general at the moment? How efficiently are companies working and how are investors reacting given the current political climate?
Doug Kurkul: The North American economy is growing at the fastest rate in nine years, thanks to a number of factors, including the adoption of pro-growth policies in the United States, and more reasonable regulatory policies at the Environmental Protection Agency. The metalcasting industry in North America is experiencing similarly strong growth across nearly all foundry sectors. This is in marked contrast to the difficult business conditions as recently as 2016. The 2018 American Foundry Society Metalcasting Forecast estimated 2017 casting sales growth at 2.8 percent, and projects a strong 4.7 percent growth rate in 2018. While foundry managers have a number of uncertainties to consider, including rising interest rates, the new OSHA silica regulation, worker skills shortages, and political divisions in Congress, the industry as a whole welcomes this more robust rate of castings sales growth. Given the importance of public policies relative to the casting industry, AFS at any given time is advocating on 20-25 policy issues in Washington, including reasonable regulations based on sound science, so as to improve the business climate for U.S. metalcasters.
Foundry-Planet: How are the new steel and aluminum tariffs recently enacted by President Trump impacting America’s foundries in terms of iron, steel, aluminum, castings imports, scrap prices, and the automotive industry?
Doug Kurkul: The metalcasting community generally applauds the Trump Administration for addressing China’s unfair trade practices. Our membership is somewhat split on the steel and aluminum tariffs. Some are pleased that the White House stood up for manufacturing in this manner. Others are concerned about rising inflation including scrap prices due to the announcement, or the possibility of an increase in casting imports. The Administration is considering applications for exceptions to the tariffs, so the full impact is difficult to gauge at this time.
Foundry-Planet: At the very latest, we will see you at the CastExpo 2019 in Atlanta. How do you predict the American foundry industry will evolve between now and then?
Doug Kurkul: We had an exciting Metalcasting Congress show in April in Texas, with informative sessions, and many exhibitors reporting that they landed strong new business deals and leads.
The next major event is the Foundry Leadership Conference in beautiful Amelia Island, Florida, September 16-18, 2018. In addition to an array of expert speakers representing North America, we are pleased to welcome Atchi Nagai from Sintokogio in Japan, Carsten Kuhlgatz from HA in Germany, and Dennis Dotson representing the WFO.
Exhibit sales for CastExpo 2019 in Atlanta are off to a brisk start. The theme of the 2019 show is “Metalcasting Success Starts Here.” We expect a very large attendance next year, given the level of innovation in the industry and the very popular location of the show for exhibitors and attendees alike. The dates are April 27-30, 2019.
I expect a rapid pace of evolution in the industry between now and then. In North America, there is a sharp focus on the development of new castings, conversions, and reshoring. Suppliers are readying new products that they will be rolling out between now and 2019, furthering the innovation quotient. Moreover, additive manufacturing is playing a growing role in the industry, and the AFS ad hoc additive manufacturing committee recently became a full-fledged division, with three committees under it.
Finally, we see tremendous enthusiasm from young people entering the industry. The numbers of students attending Metalcasting Congress the past two years have been a record high. So even though foundries are struggling to find and retain enough qualified workers, it’s an exciting time for the industry in North America.